On/off relationships and ‘sex with an ex’ among teenagers and young adults

Relationship Churning in Emerging Adulthood: On/Off Relationships and ‘Sex with an Ex’

From Journal of Adolescent Research

This study finds that nearly half of older teenagers and young adults break up and get back together with previous dating partners and over half of this group have sex as part of the reconciliation process. The authors studied data on 792 daters and cohabiters ages 17 to 24, also known as “emerging adults”. They found that approximately 44% of emerging adults who had been in a romantic relationship in the past two years had experienced at least one reconciliation with an ex romantic partner and 53% of those who reported reconciliations also reported having sex with their ex. Additionally, racial minorities in particular were even more likely to experience reconciliation or sexual relationships with previous romantic partners. “Emerging adults who reconcile may be prone to a behavior pattern that involves cycling through relationship formation… Furthermore, having sex with an ex may be problematic because former partners can have difficulty moving on from an old relationship or building new romantic attachments.”


We build on the emerging adulthood literature to examine two forms of relationship instability, reconciliations and sex with an ex; we term these forms of relationship churning. Analyzing recent data on emerging adult daters and cohabitors (n = 792), we find that nearly half report a reconciliation (a breakup followed by reunion) and over half of those who break up continue a sexual relationship (sex with an ex). We analyze individual demographic, social psychological, and relationship factors associated with reconciliations and sex with an ex. These findings showcase that emerging adult relationships are characterized by considerable uncertainty and add to our theoretical and empirical understanding of stability in romantic relationships in emerging adulthood.

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Article details
Halpern-Meekin, S., Manning, W., Giordano, P., & Longmore, M. (2012). Relationship Churning in Emerging Adulthood: On/Off Relationships and Sex With an Ex Journal of Adolescent Research, 28 (2), 166-188 DOI: 10.1177/0743558412464524


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